Hong Kong women’s national coach Jo Hull will encourage Hong Kong to stick to their own game despite Fiji’s expected physical superiority in Friday’s crucial 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup qualifying opener at King’s Park.
Hong Kong are hosting the three-team round-robin tournament this month which will determine the final two qualifiers from Asia/Oceania for next year’s 12-team showpiece event in Ireland, with Asian champions Japan completing the line-up.
And with Hong Kong eyeing a historic first-ever appearance at a fifteen-a-side World Cup, Hull knows a positive start is needed, having lost twice to Japan in this year’s Asia Rugby Championship.
“We are going to play our game; we are going to play where our strengths are. When you play against players who are bigger than you, you need to think a little outside of the box and that is what we are trying to do in terms of how we want to play,” said Hull.
“But no matter who you are playing, we are focused on how we need to play and what we need to execute to make sure we get a result on Friday.
“The set piece is going to come into play, we need to retain our own possession particularly at set piece, but the biggest area will be the breakdown.
“We need to be accurate and effective at everything we do because the size thing does not play in our favour, but our accuracy will. That is a key area and also to get our little things right and the coaches challenging the players to do their own job.”
Fiji earned their place in the final stage of qualification after scoring six tries to beat Papua New Guinea 37-10 in the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship at the start of November. Fiji are seen as somewhat of an unknown quantity with that game their first test in 10 years.
“We know about Fiji, they are going to be a really spirited side. Rugby is in their blood, they are a rugby nation, and therefore very skilful and very talented and extremely physical of their players probably has got a good 5-10 kg on our players,” added Hull, who previously coached Scotland at the Rugby World Cup.
“That game against Papua New Guinea was pretty physical and one of the first they have played for a long time, so we know they will be getting better and better with each day and each training session. We are really expecting a huge physical battle, particularly up front.”
Following two encouraging wins over Kazakhstan last month in a series of training friendlies, Hull has named a 26-woman squad for the opener, with scrumhalf Jessica Ho Wai-on the only uncapped player in the group, which is captained by second-rower Chow Mei-nam.
“There has been a big build up and there is a great atmosphere and an excellent opportunity, but we want to play now and we are excited for Friday,” said Hull.
“We want to get out there and play, especially after those training games against Kazakhstan which were good for our preparation. Now we want to play the real games.”
Should Hong Kong win on Friday, a victory for Japan against the Pacific Islanders on Tuesday at King’s Park would wrap up the qualification picture before Saturday’s finale between the hosts and the Asian champions at Hong Kong Football Club.
“We only speak about the next job and that is Fiji on Friday night. We are not trying to pre-empt anything, we are not wasting any energy on guessing other scores, as we can’t control that, so we are just focused on the 9th of December and what we need to do against Fiji. Then we will focus on the next job,” added Hull.
“We are aware that there is a lot riding on that first game and that is why it is so important we go out there and get a good start and that our preparation is really accurate this week.”
Fiji coach Seremaia Bai is similarly thorough in keeping his squad focused on their own game. “Just like any Fijian side we want to enjoy ourselves but I’m also very big with sticking to the basics. You just need to win your own set pieces, it is nothing fancy.”
He’s also kept one eye on the opposition, saying, “We expect it is going to be tough, coming here to play Hong Kong on their home turf. I’ve watched Hong Kong on a few clips. They have got some experienced players and they are used to playing on this turf and playing in this weather.
They move the ball quite well at times and they mix it up. We are just going to expect the unexpected.”
The winner of the qualifying tournament will face hosts Ireland as well as France and Australia in pool C of the tournament which takes places 9-16 August next year, with the runner-up joining 2014 second-place finishers Canada, New Zealand and Wales in Pool A.
Hong Kong Squad, 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup qualifying
WONG Yuen Shan, SO Hoi Ting Karen, LEE Ka Shun, CHOW Mei Nam (Captain), CHAN Ka Yan, Amelie SEURE, Christy CHENG Ka Chi, Melody LI Nim Yan, Jessica HO Wai On*, Rose FONG, CHONG Ka Yan, Natasha OLSON-THORNE, Adrienne GARVEY, LAU Sze Wa, Collen TJOSVOLD, Royce CHAN Leong Sze, LAU Nga Wun, CHEUNG Shuk Han, Winnie SIU Wing Ni, Christine GORDON, Lindsay VARTY, LEE Tsz Ting, KWONG Sau Yan.
* potential Hong Kong debut